It’s been unseasonably cold this year, with some temperatures going into negative digits. Even we Californians have been in it, with chilly evenings where a crackling fire and a dish of cozy comfort is what we crave.
I was dreaming of soft polenta, but I wondered: What to top it with? Then I thought about mushroom ragout and sensed it would be a harmonious match. That’s when I whipped up this rustic mushroom ragout seasoned with tarragon and spooned it into a bowl of creamy corn polenta.
It really is just perfect for those bone-chilling moments. I have served this as both a first course (a smaller portion, of course) and as a main entrée.
Look for a mixture of fresh mushrooms, such as portobello or cremini and shiitake, and add in some dried porcini. The soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms adds a rich layer of flavor to the ragout. Cooking the tomato paste for a minute will accentuate the tomato flavor, and a touch of soy sauce brings out the mushroom essence.
You can make the ragout up to a day ahead and reheat gently before serving. If you make the ragout in advance, this really is Seriously Simple.
The polenta should be prepared just before serving so it keeps its creamy consistency. It’s so much easier with instant polenta and only takes a few minutes to put together. And you can halve this recipe if you are serving just a few people. To drink? I recommend a hearty zinfandel, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon.
Serves 6 to 8 as an entree
- 3/4 ounce dried porcini or morels, soaked in 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for 30 minutes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 pound portobello mushrooms, black gills removed, or cremini mushrooms, cut into 1 1/2-inch slices
- 1 pound shiitake or other wild mushrooms, cleaned and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons dried tarragon or 2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Strain the dried mushrooms, reserving all the soaking liquid; squeeze the mushrooms dry. Cut the mushrooms into 1/4-inch cubes and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter on medium-high heat. Add the shallots and sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes or until nicely softened. Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the fresh and reserved dried mushrooms and sauté for about 8 minutes or until the mushrooms are nicely coated and cooked through, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, wine, reserved mushroom liquid, soy sauce, and tarragon and cook for another minute or 5 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by 1/4.
Add crème fraîche, salt, and pepper and mix to combine. Cook another 2 minutes. Taste for seasoning. It should be saucy. Set aside.
Note: The ragout can be prepared up to one day ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature, reheat on medium heat, and taste for seasoning. Spoon over the polenta.
Makes enough for 6 to 8 portions of ragout
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, very finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 2 cups instant polenta
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup finely diced fontina cheese
- Parsley sprigs for garnish
In a deep, large nonstick saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil, add the onion, and sauté for about 5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, being sure not to brown it. Add the salt and stock and bring to a rolling boil. Add the corn. In a thin stream, very slowly add the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Lower the heat and continue cooking for about 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly to be sure it doesn’t stick, until it is very smooth and stiff. Stir in the Asiago or Parmesan and fontina cheese and stir well to blend.
To serve: Divide the polenta among 6 to 8 shallow bowls, making an indentation in the polenta. Spoon some mushroom ragout sauce on top and garnish with parsley.